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Stalled: Lib Dem gender balance in local government

April 6, 2018 1:49 PM
By Mark Pack Author, 101 Ways To Win An Election

A little belatedly, it's time for the 2017 version of my annual post about the gender balance amongst council candidates and councillors in the big May round of elections.

Diversity isn't only about gender, of course, but it is the strand for which there is a long-running data series stretching back to the early 1970s. That's important because there are regular and predictable fluctuations in the gender balance across the cycle of different sorts of council elections - and hence the longer term trend is the important thing to keep an eye on.

The 2017 figures continue the recent pattern: the long run of improving Liberal Democrat gender balance amongst candidate up until earlier this century stalled well short of parity and there is now even a slight slipping back. For councillors, the picture is very similar, for although it looked like there might have been another step forward a few years back it too has now faded away. The contrast with Labour's pattern is telling as Labour used to consistently under-perform the Liberal Democrats and now, after having taken deliberate and significant moves, Labour does consistently better.

Gender Balanceof Council candidates

Gender Balance of Council candidates

Gender Balance of Councillors

Gender Balance of Councillors

As to why these figures matter, it's for three main reasons. First, it matters if you think politicians should in some way be representative of the public they seek to represent. I'm all for some differences. I'd quite like our politicians to be a bit more interested in politics than the average punter, for example. But this goes well beyond that.

Second, having predominantly white, male, able-bodied and middle class candidates could be ok if you think that's where the talent and ability really rests in the population. But if you think the rest of the population have something in those stakes too…

Third, and last because it's a more insular point, having a candidate line-up that is even less diverse that the party's membership points to a party failing to make the most of the talents of its members. That would matter for any party, but all the more so for a party that is still just one bad general election result away from extinction in the House of Commons. Hence the importance given to improving our diversity in the new Liberal Democrat strategy.

Lib Dem gender balance in previous years

Thank you once to Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of The Elections Centre at the University of Plymouth and authors of British Electoral Facts 1832-2012 for providing the data used in this post.